It started with a conversation at a party. How putting off it is to see the advertising industry constantly portray women as objects of lust and desire. No one raises an eyebrow because it has been perfectly normalised. “We were talking about it and we strongly felt we wanted to make a meaningful difference. That’s when photographer Tejinder Singh Khamkha said let’s do a shoot, why not turn around the situation and place a man instead of a woman, in a similar set up and let’s see what happens,” says actor and host Abhilash Thapliyal.
The model selected for the shoot was Thapliyal himself, a pahari with “matchstick legs” who has often been targeted for not looking a certain way. Thapliyal’s mother doesn’t know what to say when relatives ask her if she doesn’t give her son enough food to eat.
And Thapliyal struck poses that no one finds odd when women try them out in ads. “I felt very uncomfortable striking those weird poses, mango ice-cream dripping down my navel.” He wondered what women go through in such shoots as he played a commodity.
Objectification is dangerously dehumanising, Thapliyal believes. “When you treat a human as an object, you rob her of her being. You cut down that individual to an object of lust and desire, someone who can’t have a mind or a voice of her own.” He says it’s no wonder that marital rape is no big deal for many, and women are scared to be called a feminist, a term that stands for equality. These are just some of the sick outcomes of objectification.
It also leads to self-objectification as women torture themselves to fit into certain stereotypes that may have nothing to do with who they are. “When we talk about a girl, it begins with how pretty she is and attributes such as ‘funny’ and ‘witty’ come later. We need to change this. I am not saying don’t wear makeup, don’t look beautiful, do it if it pleases you, but don’t let anyone else pull you down for not fitting into the stereotype created by their mind,” he says.
And when it comes to pleasing someone, you, yourself should be the only consideration, says Thapliyal who took ridicule and bullying in his stride and found success without bulking up. Rising to fame with his YouTube political satire, Mufflerman, Thapliyal made an entry into Bollywood with romantic comedy Dil Juunglee (2018). We will soon see him in a movie that stars Disha Patani in the lead role.